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NHS hits long-term patient waiting target

Health secretary attributes dramatic cut in waits to hard work of NHS staff

OnMedica staff

Friday, 27 March 2009

The Department of Health says that the NHS in England has met its long-term target to treat patients within a maximum of 18 weeks from referral by their GP. The average wait for treatment for admitted patients is now just 8.6 weeks.

Announcing the news Health Secretary Alan Johnson said that twelve years ago it was not uncommon for patients to have to wait well over 18 months for an operation.  

“Achieving the shortest waits since NHS records began is a tremendous achievement for staff and I congratulate them for all their hard work. Meeting the standard nationally five months before it came into effect, shows the commitment of the whole health service to improving patients' experiences.

"This has improved the lives of millions of people. Every year the NHS carries out 60,000 hip operations, in the last two years the waiting time for this procedure has fallen from around 30 weeks to 12 weeks.  It's not just patients that benefit from this, clinicians also value the difference it makes to the quality of care they provide."

The Department of Health published examples of how the cut in waits has improved access to treatments:

  • Over 250,000 patients have a cataract removed every year.  The average referral to treatment time for these patients has reduced by half, from 20 weeks in March 2007 to 10 weeks in January 2009.
  • Hardness of hearing and deafness affect the lives of large numbers of people.  The NHS treats over 400,000 patients every year referred directly from primary care to audiology departments where the average wait from referral to treatment has been dramatically reduced and is now around 5 weeks.
  • 125,000 patients are admitted for heart treatment each year, over 40,000 of whom have a heart bypass or angioplasty.  The average referral to treatment times for these patients has reduced by half, from 14 weeks in March 2007 to 7 weeks in January 2009.

NHS Confederation chief executive Steve Barnett said NHS staff should be praised for the “extremely hard work” they have put into meeting the target and delivering the short waiting times patients expect.

“Meeting this target has significantly improved care for patients and because it is clinically meaningful, the unintended consequences associated with other targets have largely been avoided.”

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